Read Lessons in Chemistry Online
Authors: Bonnie Garmus
Supper at Six
Within the lab, time seemed to stop. Six-Thirty lifted his head, watching the two women. The older one’s arms surrounded Elizabeth like a protective cocoon, Elizabeth’s loss something she seemed to know by heart. Although he would never be a chemist, he was a dog. And as a dog he knew a permanent bond when he saw one.
“I’ve spent the majority of my life not knowing what happened to my son,” Parker said, holding a trembling Elizabeth close. “I have no idea what his adoptive family was like, if the bishop’s story was completely false or only partly true. I don’t even know what brought him to Hastings. The truth is, I still know very little,” she said. “Or did until I checked the foundation’s P.O. box and found something unusual buried beneath months of junk mail.”
She reached down into her bag and took out a letter.
Elizabeth recognized the handwriting immediately. Madeline.
“Your daughter wrote to Wilson and mentioned her family tree project—the one that appeared in
She insisted that her father had been raised in a boys home in Sioux City—somehow, she knew Wilson had funded it. She wanted to thank him personally, tell him the Parker Foundation was on her tree. I thought it might be a crank letter, but she had so many details. Adoptions are usually sealed, Miss Zott— a heartless practice—but with
Madeline’s information, a private investigator was finally able to ferret out the truth. I have it all here.” She reached back into her bag to withdraw a large folder. “Look at this,” Parker said, her voice defiant as she extended her own faked death certificate, payback for her non-cooperation at the unwed mothers home. “This is how it all started.”
Elizabeth took the certificate in her hands. Madeline had once said Wakely believed some things needed to stay in the past because the past was the only place they made sense. And as it was so often with the things Wakely said, Elizabeth saw the wisdom in it. But there was one last thing she felt Calvin would have wanted her to ask.
“Miss Parker,” Elizabeth said carefully, “what became of Calvin’s biological father?”
Avery Parker opened the file folder again, handing over yet another death certificate—although this one was real. “He died of tuberculosis,” she said. “Before Calvin was even born. I have a picture.” She opened her billfold and extracted a weathered photograph.
“But he—” Elizabeth gasped as she took in the young man standing next to a much younger Avery.
“Looks exactly like Calvin? I know.” She slid a copy of the old
magazine out and placed it next to the photograph. The two women sat side by side as Calvin and his even younger father looked up at them from their separate histories.
“What was he like?”
“Wild,” Avery said. “He was a musician or wanted to be. We met by accident. He ran me over with his bike.”
“Were you hurt?”
“Yes,” she said. “Luckily. Because he lifted me up, put me on his handlebars, told me to hang on, and rushed me to a doctor. Ten stitches later,” she said, pointing to an old scar on her forearm, “we were in love. He gave me this brooch,” she said, pointing to the lopsided daisy on her lapel. “I still wear it every day.” She glanced around at the lab. “I’m sorry about meeting here. In
hindsight, I realize this might have caused you some pain. I’m sorry. I just wanted to be in the room where—” She stopped.
“I understand,” Elizabeth said. “I really do. And I’m glad we’re here together. This is where Calvin and I first met. Right over there,” she said, pointing. “I needed beakers, so I stole his.”
“That sounds very resourceful,” Avery said. “Was it love at first sight?”
“Not exactly,” Elizabeth said, remembering how Calvin had demanded that her boss give him a call. “But we ended up having our own happy accident. I’ll tell you about it sometime.”
“I’d love to hear it,” she said. “I wish I could have known him. Perhaps through you, I might.” She took a shaky breath, then cleared her throat. “I would very much like to be part of your family, Miss Zott,” she said. “I hope that’s not too bold.”
“Please, call me Elizabeth. And you
family, Avery. Madeline understood this a long time ago. It’s not Wilson she put on the family tree—it’s you.”
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“You’re the acorn.”
Avery, her eyes a watery gray, took in some distant point across the room. “The fairy godmother acorn,” she said to herself.
From outside they heard footsteps, then a quick knock. The lab door swung open and Wilson stepped back in. “I’m sorry to intrude,” he said cautiously, “but I wanted to make sure everything was—”
“It is,” Avery Parker said. “It finally is.”
“Thank god,” he said, putting his hand to his chest. “In that case, as much as I hate to bring up business, there’s a lot that needs your attention, Avery, before we leave tomorrow.”
“I’ll be right there.”
“You’re leaving already?” Elizabeth asked, surprised, as Wilson shut the door behind him.
“I’m afraid I must,” Avery said. “As I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t really planning on telling you any of this—not before we had a chance to get to know each other.” Then she added hopefully, “But we’ll be back soon, I promise.”
“Let’s say supper at six, then,” Elizabeth said, not wanting her to go. “The home lab. Everyone—you, Wilson, Mad, Sixty-Thirty, me, Harriet, Walter. You’ll need to meet Wakely and Mason at some point, too. The whole family.”
Avery Parker, her face suddenly familiar with Calvin’s smile, turned back and took Elizabeth’s hands in her own. “The whole family,” she said.
As the door closed behind them, Elizabeth bent down and took Six-Thirty’s head in her hands. “Tell me. How soon did you know?”
At two forty-one,
he wanted to say.
Which is what I plan to call her.
But instead he turned and jumped up on the opposite counter and grabbed a fresh notebook. Removing the pencil from her hair, she took it from him, then opened to the first page.
“Abiogenesis,” she said. “Let’s get started.”
Writing is a solo effort, but it takes an army to bring a book to the shelves. I’d like to thank my army:
From Zürich, my pals who read the earliest chapters: Morgane Ghilardi, CS Wilde, Sherida Deeprose, Sarah Nickerson, Meredith Wadley-Suter, Alison Baillie, and John Collette.
My Curtis Brown online writing friends: Tracey Stewart, Anna Marie Ball, Morag Hastie, Al Wright, Debbie Richardson, Sarah Lothian, Denise Turner, Jane Lawrence, Erika Rawnsley, Garret Symth, and Deborah Gasking.
My unbelievably supportive and talented Three-Month Curtis Brown novelists: Lizzie Mary Cullen, Kausar Turabi, Matthew Cunningham, Rosie Oram, Elliot Sweeney, Yasmina Hatem, Simon Hardman Lea, Malika Browne, Melanie Stacey, Neil Daws, Michelle Garrett, Ness Lyons, Ian Shaw, Mark Sapwell, and the brilliant Charlotte Mendelson, who pushed us to be better.
Curtis Brown’s Anna Davis for her grace and guidance; the tireless Jack Hadley, Katie Smart, and Jennifer Kerslake for their always-cheery support; Lisa Babalis, who generously read my opening and gave me hope; Sarah Harvey, Katie Harrison, Caoimhe White, and Jodi Fabbri, the best rights management team in the universe; Rosie Pierce, who handles every detail with aplomb; ICM’s Jennifer Joel, a reassuring, confident voice when
things got complicated; Tia Ikemoto for the helping hand; CB film rights agent Luke Speed, who’s probably in some sort of science experiment to see how long a person can go without sleep; and Anna Weguelin, who, I’m pretty sure, doesn’t sleep either.
Actually, I’m not sure anyone at Curtis Brown or ICM sleeps.
An extra huge thanks goes to Felicity Blunt at Curtis Brown. A few years back, before I moved to London, I was researching agents and saw an interview Felicity had given, and I remember thinking,
If I could have any agent
…And then I did. Thanks, Felicity, for your faith in me, your keen eye, your kindness, your toughness, and your unflagging support. Now that the book is done, please feel free to play with your children.
On the publishing side of things, special thanks to Jane Lawson and Lee Boudreaux, the shrewdest editors a writer could ever hope for, Thomas Tebbe für seine begeisterte Unterstützung, Beci Kelly and Emily Mahon for their eye-catching covers, Maria Carella for the beautiful interior, Cara Reilly for always being on top of things, and Amy Ryan for her gifted copyediting. Thanks also to my publishers, Larry Finlay and Bill Thomas; my talented publicists, Alison Barrow, Elena Hershey, and Michael Goldsmith; the amazing marketing leadership of Vicky Palmer, Lauren Weber, and Lindsay Mandel, and the creative minds of Todd Doughty, Lilly Cox, Sophie MacVeigh, Kristin Fassler, and Erin Merlo. A huge thanks to the patient, eagle-eyed production maven Ellen Feldman, as well as to Lorraine Hyland. Also huge thanks to Tom Chicken, Laura Richetti, Emily Harvey, Laura Garrod, Hana Sparks, Sarah Adams, and the entire sales team. Finally, special thanks to Madeline McIntosh. Your encouragement and support is so very much appreciated.
Researching chemistry is one thing, getting it right is another. To that end, special thanks to Dr. Mary Koto, longtime friend, brilliant biologist, and Eskimo Pie connoisseur, and Dr. Beth Mundy, amazing Seattle chemist and reader, both of whom graciously and meticulously checked the details.
Huge affection and gratitude to all my rowing teammates at
Green Lake and Pocock in Seattle, and extra-special thanks to rower Donya Burns, who once insisted our tired crew “recommit to every stroke.” That urging took up permanent residence in my brain and ultimately became the advice Harriet gives Elizabeth.
To the writers who understand how real the struggle is: Joannie Stangeland, poet extraordinaire; Diane Arieff, the most hilarious person on the face of the earth; Sue Monshaw for keeping the faith; and Laura Kasischke, who probably doesn’t remember me but her writing advice and encouragement went a very long way. Finally, extra-special thanks to Susan Biskeborn, the most comforting, calming, supportive voice in the writing wilderness. Thanks, Susan, for always knowing what to say and when to say it.
To some people I really wish I could share this with but can’t: my parents, lifelong readers, and to Helen Martin, my oldest, dearest friend. I miss you, 86.
And for the three people who were there all the way: Sophie, thanks for getting the whole thing rolling by sending me that link to Curtis Brown in the first place—to say I owe you is the understatement of the year. Also thanks for your constant support and deadpan humor, your empathetic understanding of the bumpy creative process, your publishing insights, and your drop-everything readiness to ask and answer the eternal question: Cookies? Or fairies?
To Zoë, thanks for your kindness on the bad days and your joy on the good ones, also for your scary psycho typo spidey sense, for all the Ellie photos that always make me laugh, and for your highly curated meme selection, which probably belongs in a museum. Despite how much you had on your own plate, you always found time to check in and chat.
And to David, thanks doesn’t begin to cover it so I’m putting it in all caps—THANKS. For always being ready to read, for being the better cook, for engaging me in constant debate, and especially for pretending to be unalarmed when you finally discovered just how much I talk to myself during the day. Never in a million years did I imagine so much fun (not to mention the
uncanny ability to count down by sevens from three hundred well into the negative numbers in under a minute) could come packaged in one human being. I love and admire you.
Finally, thanks to my dog, Friday, gone but not forgotten, and the ever-stoic 99. I apologize for every time I said to either one of you, “Just let me finish this paragraph—then we’ll go.”
Bonnie Garmus is a copywriter and creative director who’s worked widely in the fields of technology, medicine, and education. She’s an open-water swimmer, a rower, and mother to two pretty amazing daughters. Born in California and most recently from Seattle, she currently lives in London with her husband and her dog, 99.